March 2010 |

Successful living requires a balance of courage and compassion, just as it demands we balance the time we devote to achievement with the time we invest in our relationships. Courage & Compassion is a free monthly newsletter about success in life and business.

I wonder if you are as concerned as I am about what television, movies and other media are teaching young people about love. The love relationships portrayed on popular television shows have very little to do with genuine love. If parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles do not help the young people in their lives to understand the differences between lust, infatuation and love, marriages will continue to erode at an ever-alarming rate leaving a path of wounded hearts and broken families in their wake. For those more mature among us, mistaking infatuation for love can lead to painful and destructive emotional or physical affairs.

When we “fall in love” or become infatuated, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine levels increase, creating feelings of motivation, pleasure and euphoria. The neurotransmitter serotonin decreases, impacting mood and flexibility. We get stuck on ideas or obsessed with the object of our infatuation. We also become highly distracted. While all of this is going on, our prefrontal cortex (our judgment center) begins to disengage, putting us at risk of impaired judgment and foolish choices. Our brains cannot sustain the intensity of infatuation indefinitely. It runs its course in anywhere from several days to two years.

Real love, or what is sometimes called companionate love, is characterized by trust and commitment. It focuses on creating emotional safety for those involved in the relationship. When infatuated, we aren’t really ourselves. We cannot achieve true intimacy (not sexual) unless we feel safe enough to open up and reveal who we really are. We will only reveal who we really are if we trust that the other person will love, accept and value us, in spite of our “not so pretty” parts. Infatuation must run its course before we can truly love. This is one reason it is dangerous for couples to marry without dating for at least two years. They marry in a state of infatuation and believe that they are no longer “in love” when it passes.

Is your marriage emotionally safe? Do you view your partner as a treasure, a special gift to you? Do your words and actions demonstrate the high value you place on your partner? Does your partner feel safe expressing his/her true thoughts, feelings, desires and beliefs to you?

Love is not always easy or convenient. You won’t always “feel” loving feelings toward your partner, yet you can choose to behave in ways that honor him/her. It will be worth it.

I have routinely used this segment of the newsletter to share what I have been reading that I think may be of interest or value to you. This week, since some of the other segments are longer than usual, I will leave you with this brief anecdote. As my son and I were walking out of a bookstore together this past week he turned and exclaimed, “Mom, you are a bookaholic!” There are few compliments he could give me that would mean more to me than this one.

Building on this month’s featured article, what follows is a partial list of behaviors that impact emotional safety in a relationship.

Behaviors that negatively impact emotional safety in a relationship:

  • Angry outbursts, silent treatment, walking off in the middle of a discussion
  • Belittling or demeaning your partner while alone or in front of others
  • Being dishonest or withholding information
  • Violating your partner’s trust
  • Judging your partner’s feelings, thoughts, or desires as right or wrong
  • Accusing your partner of “always” or “never” engaging in certain behaviors
  • Making demands rather than requests
  • Intentionally hurting your partner
  • Being unreliable
  • Focusing on changing your partner rather than changing yourself

Behaviors that positively impact emotional safety in a relationship:

  • Placing the good of the relationship above your individual good
  • Keeping your partner’s best interest at heart
  • Seeking to understand rather than judge
  • Noticing and commenting on the things your partner does that please you
  • Expressing your love and appreciation with words and touch
  • Giving your partner your full attention when he/she talks
  • Sharing your feelings, thoughts, fears, and dreams with your partner
  • Spending time alone with your partner
  • Communicating and managing conflict in a respectful way

Be yourself; everyone else is taken.

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© Susan Silvers